Holland Christian’s gamble pays off; Maroons advance to Division 2 final
East Lansing – You can debate whether holding your ace for the next step was a gamble or not, but there’s no doubt a gutsy move by Holland Christian’s baseball team paid dividends.
Holland Christian’s 4-3 win over DeWitt in Thursday’s Division 2 semifinal at Michigan State was highlighted by a decision not to start the Maroons’ top pitcher, a hard-throwing right-hander who will pitch at the same field next spring for the Spartans.
Despite senior Mike Mokma compiling a 13-0 record that included two perfect games and a win over Division 1 power Rockford, Holland Christian coach Jim Caserta opted to start senior David Williams over Mokma, who was fresh after not pitching in Tuesday’s quarterfinal.
Williams responded with four solid innings before Mokma entered in the fifth inning with Holland Christian trailing 3-2. Mokma retired all nine batters he faced before the Maroons tied the game in sixth, then won it on a sacrifice fly by Josh Sterenberg in the seventh.
Caserta was immediately bombarded with questions after the game about his decision, but refused to call the move a gamble. Caserta said he had little doubt Williams would hold the fort until Mokma entered.
"I have confidence in David and he was a little more rested," said Caserta, who will be attempting to become the first coach in the 45-year history of the tournament to coach two different teams to state titles in Saturday’s 9:30 a.m. final against Linden, a 5-2 winner over Dearborn Divine Child in its semifinal.
"David was 100 percent and has been throwing well, but when it got tough we brought the big guy in. We were feeling pretty good when he came in. Mike will do whatever we need from him when he comes in, starting or relieving."
The 6-foot-7, 210-pound Mokma, who bounced back from an injury-filled junior season, said he had no problem with the starting of Williams, who allowed five hits in four innings. Mokma fanned five.
"I don’t know if it was a gamble. David is a good pitcher and he’s been on a roll," Mokma said. "You’ve got to go with who is on the role."
Holland Christian trailed 2-0 and 3-2, but Mokma said the Maroons (35-6) have survived similar situations all seasons.
"We’ve dealt with adversity before and (Caserta) said just keep grinding. (Playing in the finals) is something you dream about. We’re just living in the moment."
DeWitt’s 3-2 lead included an RBI single by Noah Koenigsknecht and an RBI double by Donovan Tarn.
A walk and infield singles by Mokma and Brady Brower tied the game 3-3 in the sixth. A key catcher’s interference call, a single by Brandon Riemersma and fly ball by Sterenberg won the game in the seventh.
"Both teams made a couple mistakes, but we made plays to get through it," said Caserta, who coached Holland West Ottawa to a 2003 state title.
DeWitt coach Alan Shankel said any coach faces a tough decision when lining up a pitching rotation that includes needing to win three games in five games to notch a state championship.
"You have to make choices and stick with them. It’s difficult for everyone," he said. "You know you have to win (the semifinal) to win it all, but (Caserta) knows his pitchers and what they can do. You trust them to get the job done."
Division 2 semifinal
Linden 5, Dearborn Divine Child 2
Linden scored all its runs in the third and fourth innings and junior Lucas Marshall fired a five-hitter for the Eagles (30-9-1). Down 1-0, Linden scored three runs in the third on a walk, two hit batters, a sacrifice, a passed ball and a two-run single by Nick Koan. Ryker Rivera added an RBI single and Brendan Buerkel had a sacrifice fly in the fourth for a 5-1 lead.
Marshall scattered five singles while striking out four and walking two.
Linden lost six seniors who are all in college this spring from a 31-win season a year ago.
"The kids have surprised me all year," Linden coach Steve Buerkel said. "This was our 29th win and now our focus is on 30.The guys are just blowing me away. We have a lot of kids with a lot of heart."